During a discussion with school students about the harmful effects of smoking, child counsellor Chandni Mehta was taken aback with this response from one of her young charges: “Passive smoking doesn’t kill you. I Googled it and found out.”
This incident encapsulates one of the findings of a Tata Consultancy Services’ survey on students that claimed that one in every three children across India’s mini metros use Google as the primary source of information. That number increases to one in two children in the metros.
According to the study on students (aged 12-18) across 12 Indian cities, Mumbai (74 per cent) comes second after Kolkata (77 per cent) on students using the Internet (Google + Wikipedia) for information.
Pallavi Maheshgurjar (13), a Class 9 student of IES Manik Vidya Mandir school, says: “Whenever I need information, I log on directly to Wikipedia. For a school project on tsunamis, I just had typed the word in Google and Wikipedia and I got all my information within an hour.”
Although Maheshgurjar reads the newspaper every morning, she says using them as research tools “is a waste of time”. “Google gives quick results and I know the information is always correct. Even our teachers say so.”
Google also has the approval of parents as a reliable source of information. Pervin Sanghvi, mother of 15-year-old Pia who studies in Villa Theresa High School, says: “Google might not be the most authentic source of information, but it certainly is the most convenient.”
Sanghvi also cites the example of how some international schools in Mumbai encourage the use of the Internet by providing students with personal laptops and free wi-fi all over the school campus.
Pia spends an hour and half on the Internet on a daily basis, both for educational and recreational purposes. Says Sanghvi, “Even though we have tons of reading material and encyclopedias lying around, Pia gets all of her information and pictures off the Internet.”
Which is why Mehta, who runs Jumping Genius, a children’s activity centre, feels that school libraries are of no use to students today. “Kids watch current affairs on television but most of them use the Internet for information. Google is the be all and end all of their life.”